Category Archives: The Struggle Is Real

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PERSONAL TRAINER AMANDA SENTER: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

The Struggle is Real: Devoted to Unveiling All Sides of Competing
 
Name: Amanda Senter
Age: 31
Occupation: Personal Trainer & Freelance Makeup Artist
Location: Portland, OR

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(Amanda post competition in 2012. Photo by David Aboody)

Amanda, as someone who has been working with you from a ‘life coaching’ perspective I just want to say I am more than proud that you have decided to share your story. What you have been through is devastating but you are so admirable for wanting to step out from the shadow you have been living in and spill the truth on your personal struggles and journey to where you are at today. I commend you for doing this interview and needed to say that up front! So please, can you inform our readers of your past- previous to ever stepping foot on an NPC stage? What was your life like growing up?

Firstly, I’m so honored to be asked to be part of your series. I’ve read every interview and I get so much out of what the women prior have written. I never made it to the pro level like they have so I feel quite like the “little fish” here but I hope that someone can get something out of my story. I told you before that I’d be completely up front and hide nothing. And since personal pain touches everyone, yet can make us feel so isolated, I hope that the reader can connect with something here and know s/he’s neither alone nor worth any less as a competitor or as a person because of any darkness in his/her past or present.

I didn’t compete in my first show until I was 28. Prior to that year, my life was a constant battle with my weight. Being obese in high school left me with no shortage of insecurities. But my outlet and my joy was in music and acting. I sang competitively on a local level and spent as much time on stage as I could with various high school music groups or drama productions. To say the least, my home life was very negative and my family was not supportive of my interests. This is when I learned to cope with the negativity by binging and eating secretly.

After high school I was neither in the position nor had the confidence to find a way to further my artistic goals. Without that positive environment and outlet for my pain, food was no longer enough. My internalized pain began to manifest in self-harm, namely cutting. Later in life I would end up having my forearms tattooed to hide the scars that remained.

By the time I was 19 or 20, I was starting to learn about exercise and changing the way I ate. But 30 or 40 pounds lost in a very healthy and moderate manner triggered that addictive and self-abusive part of my personality. I began starving myself and obsessively exercising. Which later turned into long periods of binge/purge episodes.

I thought nothing of keeping a scale in my living room and stepping on it an upwards of six times each day. My (then) boyfriend bought a treadmill for our house and I would exercise for hours until I had burned off the days calorie intake and then some. The treadmill overlooked the bedroom and I remember many nights of running long past a reasonable bedtime to finish my calorie burn for the day. I felt superior to my sleeping boyfriend because I was “working while he was resting”. We’ve probably all seen that quote online by now.

Losing the weight gave me not only attention I had never before received but also a sense of power. I learned early that being “fat” can make a girl rather invisible in our culture. Unfortunately, I never internalized the praise and accolades I received from my peers or judges when I was performing because when I got home I was so humiliated by my family. They would shame me for singing, tell me to “shut up” and that I “sucked”. But people are funny about the way they change the way they treat you when you suddenly become more physically attractive. To me, this translated into that my outside appearance was far more valuable than my talent or personality. Therefore my health or mental well-being became an afterthought.

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(Amanda at 16 years old) 

You went through a lot of personal matters within your relationships with men. Do you feel these experiences shaped the way you viewed your body and body image before you ever decided to compete?

My lack of self-worth back then lead me down some dangerous roads. Typically, into the arms of another abuser. But in my mid-twenties I had finally had enough of my disordered eating and exercise. Not only did I want to learn how to do things right, I wanted to help others who had been through similar struggles.

Once I stopped my bad behaviors, I entered college for personal training and dumped a very toxic relationship. Things were looking like a bright new chapter in my life because I was leaving negative things behind and feeling good in my own skin. But no more than a week later, I was raped on a blind date and then again by that same ex-boyfriend. Consequently, returning to my old methods of coping with pain I only new how to express in self-harm and disordered eating. The actions of my ex fostered the belief in me that not only am I a physical commodity but once tarnished, a certain level of disrespect from people was just to be expected.

I know this is a heavy topic and not one that your readers would probably prepare themselves for in an article about the competition lifestyle. But the reason I do share this is because these experiences created a recurring pattern that would shape who I was as a competitor and after hanging up my Lucite heels.

The starve/binge/purge chaos lasted for another few years, although to a lesser degree. My next serious relationship was the first time I really fell hard in love. Unfortunately, he had a certain way of speaking to me or manipulating me that caused so much insecurity about the way I looked. At one point he told me “we’re not getting engaged until you can give me tangible, physical evidence that you can whip yourself into shape.” I was already a trainer for a few years at that point. This added to the long-standing humiliation I felt for being a fitness professional with a secret eating disorder.

Later the next year, we were long ended and I started working with my first competition coach. I believed that competing would force me to stop my binge/purge behavior because “I couldn’t be unhealthy and step onstage”. Oh, the blind hope of ignorance, haha.

You told me a story about going back to your high school graduation much thinner and wearing a very tight dress. Do you feel you were doing this to “get back” at some of the people who made you feel like less growing up?  What was the ultimate goal and mindset of showing up that way? Do you feel it worked for you or just caused more internal struggles with your body image and desire to maintain such a lean physique? 

My high school reunion was a few months after breaking up with that last ex. I was gonna “whip” myself into shape alright. That boy was gonna eat every last word!

I already new I wanted to compete when I set my goal weight loss for my reunion. So I took the advice of competitors I knew from the gym at which I worked and put myself on a “mock prep”. But instead of any gradual progression of programming or nutrition, I went full pelt for months at my old extremes and worse. I didn’t think about what I was doing at the time. I fooled myself. Perhaps it relates back to previous experiences, but my drive to lose more weight superseded what I would ever even let one of my clients consider doing. I didn’t value my own health at all. I felt my only hope for a better future was getting into a smaller dress size.

Basically, I did every wrong thing. Over-trained. 90 minutes of intense cardio every day. Roughly 800 calories a day and I even was using Clen (Clenbuterol is a sympathomimetic amine used by sufferers of breathing disorders as a decongestant and bronchodilator. People with chronic breathing disorders such as asthma use this as a bronchodilator to make breathing easier. Its effects, however, are more potent and longer-lasting as a stimulant and thermogenic drug. It causes an increase in aerobic capacity, central nervous system stimulation, blood pressure, and oxygen transportation. It increases the rate at which body fat is metabolized while increasing the body’s BMR). Ridiculous, right? It wasn’t about the bullies I had in high school. It was an attempt to cleanse me of all the pain and shame of the last decade.

New body, new you! That’s what marketing always says, right? Impress everyone! Especially people who don’t even know the real you… Who better to validate what you are on the outside? Seems like many people fall into that trap. The outside defines what lies beneath.

Essentially, things like that are empty. Sure it was fun for a while that no one recognized me, and everyone was giving me loads of praise for the way I looked and being 80 pounds lighter than what they remember. But honestly, I was a little embarrassed by the attention that dress got me. It was super low-cut and I was in no way ready to be considered “sexy” at that time in my life.

Looking back now, It actually ended up contributing to me not posting pictures of myself recently. I didn’t want people to know that I’ve gained weight after that night, not to mention after competing.

When was your first show and what made you ultimately decide to compete? 

My first show was the Emerald Cup in 2012. I wanted to compete because I figured it’d be a great stepping stone for getting into a fitness magazine, which was the ultimate goal. And since I felt like I was going nowhere in my life at the time, I determined it was “do or die”. And approached it as such. I would train harder, diet harder, devote more than any other girl next to me. I had about 30 pounds to lose to reach “stage weight” so there was no time to mess around.

I didn’t feel ready for Emerald Cup at the time. I originally wanted to do Oregon Ironman being that it was a smaller show. But my coach at the time assured me I would be ready for this larger arena. I ended up doing both shows since they were only weeks apart.

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After your first show, how would you describe the weeks following? How did you handle eating? Working out? Your mental state? How was this different from the way you viewed exercise and diet previous to ever competing?

There wasn’t a break between Emerald and Ironman.  I knew I wanted to get leaner for the next show so I continued training and dieting ferociously. The only diet I felt worked for me (again, disregarding what I and my coach at the time knew to be healthy) was beyond extreme. And I lived on it for months, not weeks. I would eat only tilapia, extra lean ground turkey, zucchini, and olive oil. Every few weeks I would get a small amount of flank steak. I wouldn’t allow myself anything else because what if I lost control and binged?

But it wasn’t just diet. I would take everything my coach recommended and go 5 steps farther. She said go on a fat burner. I lived on it daily. But I also used intense caffeine pills and Clen. I actually needed the pills just to have enough energy to feel normal enough to function through a workout. But I continued to disregard what my body was telling me. I put on my “laser focus” and powered through another 60, 90, or 120+ minutes of cardio I was going to do that day. I would never tell my coach about all the extra work I was doing. Many weekends I was in the gym multiple times a day for an hour or more just for cardio.

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(Amanda in prep for her second competition- 2012)

After Ironman, I didn’t really struggle with food. Because really, I didn’t change what I was doing. I added some cheat meals on the weekends and laid-off so much cardio. But I just kept doing what I thought would keep me lean.

It was a few months later that I repeated my typical emotional cycle with food. I got my heart broken. Not even being competition-lean won me the heart of the man I wanted. The intense inadequacy I felt sent me into a heavy relapse of bulimia. It was a long process of working with a counselor to get my head back on straight. I regained about 40lbs that summer. But with new determination to beat back my old demons, I figured another competition was just what I needed to prove myself. So I jumped right back on to my old program. The diet and training came right back. I laugh a little now because I wanted to do a cleaner and healthier prep and decided to forgo the black market substances.

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(Amanda’s second competition, the Oregon Ironman in 2012)

When you finally decided to stop competing, I know you had very rapid and seemingly uncontrolled weight gain. You also have been dealing with thyroid and other hormonal issues. Can you describe that experience to our readers? You have mentioned having little to no energy at many points and barely been able to make it through a workout. What have the doctors recommended as the best route for your long-term health?  How long has this been going on and have you made any progress in feeling better physically?

The signs of adrenal exhaustion were there for years. But since I never considered myself lean enough to make my health a priority, I just ignored it. I’ll never say that competing was the sole cause of my health problems. In talking with my doctors, we’ve come to surmise that I’ve always had some hormonal problems my entire life. Add to that a decade of insane practices with diet and exercise, finally my competition preps were just the icing on the cake.

After not being able to compete again in the 2013 spring shows for which I was training, I rebounded again. I created the perfect storm for what happened last year.

In the early fall of 2013, I was ready to start taking my rapidly re-gained weight back off again. I didn’t really pay attention to the red flags for a while. Intense fatigue. Lack of hunger or drive. I figured it was all mental. Not until January of last year when after six months of intense diet and exercise and only a 2 pounds lost did I really start to second-guess things. I felt my life depended on taking the weight off. I was stuck around 183 pounds. I’m 5’6” and competed at 130lbs. I NEEDED to lose this weight. But ultimately, I threw in the towel that month.

Once I ended my insane training and dieting, I finally had a minute to stop and think about how I felt. I started needing a nap every couple hours. At worst I was sleeping 16 hours a day. I had no ability to focus for an extended period of time. By February other people were commenting on how sick and drained I looked. I realized about four months of short term memory was gone when friends were commenting on experiences I swore never happened. There were even returning clients with whom I had no recollection of working with. It scared me.

It took a few months of testing and trying different medicines and supplements to really notice much of a change in my energy. There was quite the list of hormones that had pretty much tanked on me. And even now, I don’t feel like we have a strong hold on everything causing me to go through long periods of feeling either completely normal and full of energy or feeling drained all day. There is no in-between.

I had to take about six months off of exercise. And then if I tried to train, even lightly I would be completely exhausted after a couple sets. A few weeks into starting my medication program, I believe my body was still in it’s height of adrenal burn-out. When I would go to lift, I’d have half to maybe 1/3rd of my normal strength if I tried to push into a workout. My new coach took me off cardio entirely and had me just focus on strength training with plenty of recovery time. But even then, I’d yawn excessively and so that combined with the decrease in strength, I took that as a sign I really needed to give my body a true break.

Once my doctor did some really progressive testing and found I needed to be on a methylated B vitamin complex, I had a lot of energy return. She found not only were many of my hormones tanked and causing a severe drop in energy but on top of that, because I wasn’t able to process certain vitamins, I was only producing 40-50% of the amount of energy of a normal person.

After all of this, Allen- my new coach, got me to finally try flexible dieting for myself. I can say, for all the difficulty of last year physically, nutrition is great for the first time in my life. Allowing myself to work with macros and removing a lot of the mental pressures I had with any non-competition-diet foods has changed my life.

But my body still isn’t in a place where fat loss can happen very well. My last doctor said I will continue to gain fat until my hormones are balanced. Despite how drastically my relationship with food is and how easily I can maintain hitting my macros, I’ve still gained about 30lbs since starting my new program.

You have shared with me that you felt “big” at the Emerald Cup in 2012 I believe? You placed 5th regardless of your personal beliefs and body image. Looking back at those photos now- do you feel you had body dysmorphia and do you feel you are still dealing with that in some ways?

Oh man, I still hate looking at those photos. The peak-week methods were all wrong for my body and what I had put it through leading up to the show. So I actually did look bigger onstage than I had the days prior because what the body will do with water when water pills, sodium depletion and the introduction of starch that I hadn’t had in months all combined in the couple days prior. My otherwise flat stomach was distended onstage. Plus there were just a host of other issues behind the scenes that contributed to how I felt about my look that day.

But the body dysmorphia didn’t get really bad until right after that show. Once I saw the pictures, I immediately felt guilty for placing. There were many girls on that stage who had a better body than me. I figure I had an edge because of my stage presence. I know how to work an audience from my years of performing. I know my glutes didn’t get me that trophy, that’s for sure! What contributed to my insecurity and guilt was hearing other competitors critiquing other people in their classes once the show was over. I had just gone out there to have fun and practice. But even onstage during first callouts I was getting some intense shade from other girls near me. One girl actually mouthed “What the F—-!?” at me when I had my back to the judges. Right then, I started to question whether or not I belonged there.

So I just got harder on myself for the next show. I took pictures of myself not to show how lean I was getting but to prove that I was still too big to be a competitor. As you can see, I was sickly-looking. Like skin and bones.  But I couldn’t see it. I held no regard for the deep circles under my eyes or my unhealthy frame. I only saw how thick my thighs still were. And that’s what’s so strange about this mental issue. You literally see things differently. Many occasions I’ve come to realize that my mind had distorted my reflection or picture to see something much bigger than it was. It’s like those funny distortion filters we have on our phones. Only it’s in your head and you can’t toggle back and forth between reality and illusion.

So once the weight gain became uncontrollable, I mentally shut off. I couldn’t deal. I still hide in clothing and have avoided almost any social situation which would call for me to wear something other than large gym wear.

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“As you can see, I was sickly-looking. Like skin and bones. But I couldn’t see it. I held no regard for the deep circles under my eyes or my unhealthy frame. I only saw how thick my thighs still were.”

You sure have dealt with a lot through your past relationships, family life, and extremes within fitness. But what would you consider your ultimate “rock bottom” and what do you believe got you to that point? How have you overcome some of those feelings/issues as of today?

In all honesty, I don’t think you can get much lower than making an attempt on your own life, which is what I did after I was raped. I ended up alone in the hospital with nothing and without any numbers memorized to call anyone. Waking up the next morning, I knew God must have a purpose for me somewhere. So it’s hard to compare any level of sickness around competing to that time in my life. But there are certain events that made me feel very much out of control and in despair. Not being able to compete in 2013 was very rough on me mentally.  I was ready for the stage but a family issue came up and I made the choice to walk away from that event. But instead of staying in shape and waiting for another show, I was too upset about not doing my show. I temporarily gave up on myself at that time, but not to such a dark level of pain.

The hardest part of being as sick as I have been the last year has been the absolute loss of control of my body. To have all the power I once had over it completely stripped became a persistent ache of ineptitude. Here I was, an experienced and respected fitness trainer who could hardly function in the gym. Thank God I have the most patient and understanding clients! Many times I’ve had to cancel because I wouldn’t be able to function in a session. I’ve slept thru alarms and missed sessions. Or if I was there, it was incredibly challenging to demonstrate exercises and I would usually have to sit for a while after doing so. I take my professionalism very seriously. Every minute of their time matters to me. So I really began to feel unqualified because of my lack of energy and my weight gain. I know they hire me because of my skill and knowledge and the heart I put into it. But man, have I gone home feeling guilty so many times.

You have self-admitted to me that you have dealt with a lot of binge eating episodes. We have spoken about the fact that you could possibly be binging because in your head if you are overweight that would make you unattractive to the opposite sex. And in a way it is a “protection mechanism” to your past experiences with men and what you have been through with being hurt. Do you feel acknowledging this type of behavior and the reasoning behind it has been beneficial to decreasing the behavior?

I believe most people binge eat to avoid intense emotion. Mostly negative, but some binge eaters need to even numb positive emotions if felt to a degree they can’t manage.  There were times were I could tell part of my binging was to shelter myself. And it was further reinforced by the way some guys would treat me after competing, and especially how quickly their attention was lost once I gained weight. From childhood, my only power was food. In a very negative external environment, it was my only comfort at times. So as an adult when my mind, my “internal environment” became too much to handle, I felt I needed to suppress the pain and anxiousness with copious amounts of food.

What I’ve come to understand about inner pain especially, is that the more you run from it, the more it owns you. It changes your behaviors and will often be at the root of your self-sabotage in your personal goals.

And finally this past year I’ve been able to gain a different perspective on myself and truly come to trust that when you turn towards and lean into your pain, you disarm it. When you expose it, you diminish it. And the less you hide it, the more you can help others by showing them they aren’t alone in theirs.

So all of that, plus changing the way I view my own nutrition has helped me beat over-eating.

I know this last year or more you have taken a step back from putting yourself out there in social situations, on social media, etc. In a way, we have acknowledged that you are “hiding” from letting people see you in your current condition. Do you feel you are embarrassed? Do you feel you have to live up to what people expect from you as someone in the fitness industry? Or do you feel your career path and your body image do not align? Can you elaborate on these feelings and how you have decided to try and beat them with finally sharing your story? 

My first doctor told me to completely leave the fitness industry and focus on my makeup career. She felt it would ease a lot of the pressure I was putting on myself. That actually ticked me off in a good way! I’ve been to college, gone through many certifications and spent extensive time studying and educating myself on my chosen path in nutrition and personal fitness training. I know I’m unique in the kind of training that I do and I can easily prove I have value in this community based on my clientele.

However, many competitors feel immense shame in going up a few body fat percentage points. Here I am trying to model fitness and teach bikini posing technique to many people looking like I haven’t stepped foot in a gym for a couple years. So yeah, I didn’t want to promote myself or show what I looked like online for fear of the mockery that might ensue.

The first step was contacting you. I was at a loss on a daily basis and was slipping back into over-eating at night. I knew some of your struggles and just wanted to talk to someone who could relate to my situation. Things really progressed when you first asked to interview me. My excitement was magnified when I told my closest friends about the opportunity. They agreed that not only would it be interesting to hear from someone who isn’t out of the woods yet, with all the benefits of hindsight and health-restored. But also that so many people seek someone with whom to relate on their most insecure levels.  And that’s (as he put it) one of the qualities that makes me a good trainer, is that I have a story and I will relate to my clients where they are. That I can prove to them based on my experiences that they can change because I did, I will, and I believe the same for them.

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What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

My weakest moment is tough to talk about because I never have. It was during the relapse of my bulimia after my second show. At that time, my gym was closed on Sundays. In desperation to burn off calories I went to the gym alone and did cardio. But I soon left, went to the store, binged on food and returned to the gym to purge in the bathroom and get back on the treadmill.  I repeated that twice that day only to end up on the floor in tears. It was then that I came to understand, for me, competing was just my old E.D. in a new disguise.

The best moment in many, many years came only a week or so ago. I felt called to finally share my story on my personal Facebook page. I posted a full-body picture of myself in the gym and shared a large part of where I’ve been for the last year. The response was incredible. Being such a reclusive person for the last year, I didn’t think about the number of people who might see the post. I got so many amazing comments and personal messages. So many people responded so well, it brought tears to my eyes. So it makes me feel much better about how honest I’ve decided to be here.

As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

I still struggle with my fear of inadequacy. I’ve spent so many years of my life believing that my value was negotiated by my weight. Now, of course intellectually, I knew that wasn’t true. But a belief in the heart, no matter how weak or strong can sway the mind so well.

So last year I was seeking ways to reignite my creativity and my passion. I started doing more youtube competition makeup tutorials. And diving into my makeup work. But there was more. I still have such a strong heart for helping people. I found that creating my fundraiser Strength to Save filled that longing in me to make a bigger difference in the world.

The more I focus on who I am inside, the less my weight matters. I’m at a point now where, though I’m not comfortable or happy with it, I can accept my situation for what it is. And I believe that is what will empower me to progress with greater strides in reclaiming a healthy body. Where the mind goes, the body will follow.

What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

First off, never put your mental or physical health to the side. Not for any competition or for any goal. You have one body and one life. I can’t think of any event, any stage or any photoshoot that was worth being so sick.

I’m very concerned about what social media is doing to bodybuilding. Mainly in the way women are presenting themselves online. The trend of “fitness porn” style photography is off-putting to put it kindly. Perhaps I’m more sensitive to the subject because of the fact that men have used and abused my body for their pleasure and power. Your body is yours at the end of the day. Do whatever you choose with it. But on social media, people are influenced by these messages. Whether it’s competitors shaming their off-season body for not being competition lean or bombardment of hyper-sexualized fitness icons. It can be hard to walk away from that not comparing yourself to what you see. So to women who are more sensitive or easily triggered, be mindful of who you follow and where you find yourself going in your internal dialogue.  Don’t plant seeds that have destructive fruit.

And lastly, do not fear failure. Where I am today is exactly what I considered personal fitness failure to be. Overweight and powerless to change it. The truth is, no matter what your biggest fear is, it will not destroy you if you don’t let it. In many respects, my life has never been better. I always thought happiness would be back down below 12% bodyfat. But I wasn’t happy then.  I actually feel much stronger and happier mentally and spiritually than ever. In time my body will heal. Sometimes our biggest fears lead us to great victories.

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

This recent time in my life has shown me how precious health is. So my motivation comes from small victories of making it through a whole workout or seeing the positive impact I can have on another person’s life. Hard to think of much more valuable than helping other people. I’ve learned that one’s own depression can diminish the more they devote their life to helping others.

Do you have plans to compete again in the future? Do you believe competing is a healthy goal for you at this point in your journey? 

Hard to say about competing. I don’t know if my body will go there again. I have a beautiful figure suit that my dear friend Kristi wore on the Olympia stage tucked away in my room. I can’t seem to let it go. But I don’t really spend any time thinking about myself on stage right now.

I’m enjoying learning what it feels like to have self-acceptance and not push my body to some intense level right now.

What are your future goals with your career at this point? I know you are passionate about helping others, have a makeup business, and also started a foundation. Can you tell our readers about your personal goals and direction you are headed now?

My specialty in training is corrective exercise and human movement. I’m passionate about helping athletes and general populations improve the way their body moves. I work with them to prevent or recover from injury. So I plan to expand that aspect of my career.  Makeup is a side-project and I’m mainly in it for competition makeup and fitness photoshoots. But if it goes in another direction, I’m more than open to it.

My foundation has been amazing. Strength to Save is based in the fitness community. Our aim is to raise money to rescue victims of and prosecute criminals of human trafficking all over the world. In two months on just a local level, we raised over $1,000. The main concept is kind of like the ice bucket challenge which is social media driven and relies on posting a video. But our method is to have you show an exercise that makes you feel strong, and dedicate a percentage of the weight or reps to the fundraiser. In the post you share a fact about human trafficking to raise awareness.

I feel like human slavery is so easily overlooked. But there are an estimated 36 million slaves in the world. All ages, genders, and social classes. This is something that truly thrives on the silence and passivity of others. Every little bit of money we raise is saving an innocent person from a life of pain they might not otherwise escape.

People can find out more about my program on Facebook, on Instagram @strenghtosave, and my website.

If you would like to reach out to or just continue to follow Amanda’s journey, you can do so through the following channels:

IG: @amandasenter
Facebook: www.facebook.com/amandasenter
Email: amandasenterpt@yahoo.com
Website: www.amandasenter.com

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WBFF PRO VICTORIA SEGRAVE: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

The Struggle is Real: Devoted to Unveiling All Sides of Competing

Name: Victoria Segrave
Age: 23
Occupation: Online Trainer and Competition Coach
Location: New York

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Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Victoria. My blog has always been dedicated to spilling the truth in this industry. I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. I know you have had your fair shares of ups and downs in this industry which is why I reached out to feature you, and congrats on your success! That being said, can you fill us in on a little background about yourself previous to competing and becoming a WBFF Bikini Pro?

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my story, struggles and successes. I aim to share the reality of fitness every chance I get. I commend you on you #TheStruggleIsReal blog because it gives people the ability to relate to various females on their journeys.

Growing up my parents always involved me in sports. I danced for 9 years and played softball from elementary school through high school. Looking back, I noticed that although I played sports I wasn’t as involved in it as I could have been. I was more concerned with my social status and making money. I worked my butt off maintaining three jobs through high school. I think because I was always “bigger” than my friends that I had to work extra hard to be liked and to fit in. I had a great group of friends; many of our peers would have classified us as the “popular” bunch. I took part in an irresponsible activity in high school which caused me to sit out for the majority of the softball season during my senior year. That is where my sports involvement ceased. Instead of going to practice or games after school, I’d go driving around with friends, go eat fast food or go shopping. After graduation, I stayed at a local community college while my friends went off to college. I spent my time out of class putting all my efforts into working my way from a front desk job (that I entered into my freshman year of high school), into a management position at New York Sport Clubs. I started lifting weights in 2011 after being prescribed anxiety medication due to a painful relationship I was in. Working out was an outlet for me. It allowed me to put unwanted energy into something positive.

I believe your first show was in 2012? And previous to that you have self admitted that you were overweight? What made you decide to compete and what was your first prep like?

Yes, in high school and through my childhood I was bigger than all the kids my age. I was extremely self-conscious and lacked self-esteem. In my junior year of high school I was out of school for 2 months with mono. In that time I went from 155 pounds to 125, a weight I always desired to be at. Also in that time of weight loss I started dating a guy I personally thought was way out of my league. A guy I didn’t think I would have gotten to notice me at 155 pounds. As time went on, the weight slowly began creeping on, while the abuse from my boyfriend got more frequent. The verbal and mental abuse was more damaging in the long run than then the physical abuse. After two and a half years I decided to join a commercial weight loss program. I thought that if I could lose the weight, maybe the abuse would stop as well. In time, I lost about 15 pounds but the torture in my relationship stayed. Although, the weight loss gave me the confidence to stop taking the various abuse and break free from someone who didn’t care about me.

I started putting my energy and free time into the gym where I met an incredible guy who shared many of the same passions I did. He pushed me to do things out of my comfort zone and supported my decision to compete. I hired a local coach and met with her once a week for a training session. Three weeks prior to the show, my coach wasn’t really as hands on as she should have been. A coach at my local gym decided to take me under her wing and put me on an incredibly unsafe diet. I was eating strictly tilapia and asparagus with very minimal carbs five to six times per day. I was also doing cardio for two hours per day. My prep took over my life. I had no time for friends, family or boyfriend. I wasn’t performing well at my job. And, my emotions and mood swings made it impossible to be around me. I wasn’t able to enjoy the experience because I was so desperate for it to finally be over.

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After your first show, how would you describe the weeks following? How did you handle eating? Working out? Your mental state? How was this different from the way you viewed exercise and diet previous to ever competing?

After my first show I had a serious distorted relationship with food. Three weeks prior to the show my coach had me on white fish, asparagus and VERY limited carbs six times per day. I recall having a few strawberries one day and being yelled at for not sticking to the plan.

After years of my childhood dreaming about this body, I wasn’t going to lose it. I saw that lean proteins, limited carbs and vegetables got me to that point, therefor that’s what I kept on doing. I ate five to six times per day, very low fats, dairy and complex carbs, and a large quantity of protein and vegetables.

Prior to competing, I loved working out! As I mentioned, it was an escape from life. I didn’t need my anxiety medication because working out was outlet. I did limited cardio and enjoyed seeing improvements in my weights on a weekly basis. Post show, I found working out to be a chore and stressful. I did cardio for an hour per day burning at least 500 calories and then lifted weights for an hour and a half to two hours.

I know you have also openly discussed your eating disorder where you said you were bulimic, anorexic, and an exercise bulimic. What was this experience like and what would you say these behaviors were mostly contributed to?

After my second show when I went Pro, I felt like I had an image to uphold. I was being watched by family, friends, peers I graduated with, ect. To maintain this look, I made sure to work out in a fasted state, burning a minimum of 1,200 calories. I didn’t eat more than 900 calories per day. These calories came from protein, vegetables and little to no fats. I excluded dairy and complex carbs completely. My mind was totally consumed and obsessed with calories, meal timing and exercise. I was always in control of how much I ate, when I ate and how it was made. If I had to go someplace where I wasn’t in control of the food, I’d purge the first chance I got.

After being in recovery and sifting through my childhood, competing streak and character defects I believe a lot of these tendencies came from lack of control in my life. Growing up, I didn’t control my weight nor had control on what people thought of me. In my relationships, I didn’t exercise my control during the abuse I went through. When I finally discovered the ability to control what I put into my body and how to maintain a certain look, I went overboard and took it to extreme measures.

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How many shows have you done since your first and why do you or didn’t you continue to compete? 

I competed in my first show April of 2012. November 2012 I decided to compete with the WBFF where I won my pro card. I decided to take time off in 2013 and 2014 to focus on treatment for my eating disorder, mending my severely damaged hormones and to rediscover why I fell in love with fitness in the beginning. It was incredibly hard to make the decision to step away from the stage. Seeing others competing and the success they were having made me want to go back in the worst way. However, I knew my health was more important that stepping on stage. I knew one day I’d want to have a family and that wouldn’t be possible if I weren’t back to competing so soon.

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What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

My strongest moment was developing a deep relationship with God, and having the ability to give my life and decisions along with my power to God – my Higher Power. There were severe times where I felt like over exercising, under eating or purging. I was able to give those urges over to God through prayer and simply have faith that I was on the right track.

My weakest moments were avoiding social functions in fear of foods and drinks being served. I’d fake being sick to avoid going to family dinners. I’d lie to friends and say I had previous plans to avoid going to bars. I spent countless nights alone, in the comfort of my own home, with my own foods. I missed out on so many memories.

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As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

I think my biggest struggle today is fighting the urge to compare myself to those on social media, and, exercising the tools I’ve learned to deviate me away from comparing myself.

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What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance? What helped you overcome your ED?

The best advice I could give is to go slow! Only a small amount of the population truly loves fitness. It’s such a rare and precious hobby to enjoy and yet we obsess and tend to take it to extremes so quickly. I strongly advise people not to go to extremes simply to step on stage. The stage will ALWAYS be there. There’s no need to put your health, social life, relationships and sanity at risk for a brief moment on stage.

Another piece of advice I’d love to give is to look into a flexible dieting approach. A traditional “bro” diet made me obsess over foods and meal timing. It fueled my eating disorders. A flexible diet put’s no label on foods such as “bad” or “good”, “dirty” or “clean”. You don’t have to stress or miss family/social functions. You learn how valuable carbohydrates are in athletic performance. You learn balance and most importantly are able to maintain this approach forever.

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I know you are now a big advocate of IIFYM and are eating a very sustainable amount of carbs and fats and staying lean. Was the transition to IIFYM hard for you based on the fact that you were so pre-programmed to certain food groups as “bad” or “off-limits”?

At first, when I made the transition I stuck to the foods I was comfortable with. Complex carbs, lean proteins, healthy fats, dairy, fruits and vegetables. I made these foods fit within my daily intake. I still ate five to six times per day, every few hours. During this time I was also researching and educating myself on macronutrients. I was experimenting with “cheat foods” on a regular basis, as I learned about the role food takes in the body, how food is broken down, and the “bro-science” myths that has been circulating in the fitness industry for years..

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Was the process of reverse dieting to help fix your metabolism hard? How did you stick to restricting macros while trusting the process to increase your intake in hopes of having a more sustainable intake? What is the mental part of that journey like?

It was an extreme mental rollercoaster for me having to increase my intake after restricting calories for so long. I did it very slowly and increased a few hundred calories each week. I reversed and worked on mending my hormones, metabolism, and strength for about a year. Although, I wish I could go back and approach my food increase, knowing what I know now about “reverse dieting”. Prolonging a reverse diet only keeps you in a deficit for a longer amount of time. It took me two and a half years to regain my period and get my hormones back to functioning levels because I took so long to get to my maintenance calories. So although I reversed at a speed that was in accordance with my mental state, I wish I would have knew the effects it had on my hormones and such.

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How has social media/the fitness industry influenced the way you view yourself?

When I was getting ready to compete and even after I initially turned pro, I looked to social media to validate my journey, I compared myself to others and I found myself portraying someone I wasn’t, posting things I thought my followers wanted to see. For instance, I saw a lot of well known fitness advocates posting their “cheat meals” or typical fun meals. At that point, I was still deep in my eating disorder. I couldn’t imagine eating some of those things, even if they were only once a week. Anyway, I made this one post with a picture of my meal consisting of steak, fries and dessert. I made this long caption about how good it felt to eat these things and the importance of a cheat meal to maintain balance in life. Well, in reality, I worked out for three hours that day and starved myself until that meal. The steak and fries were on a commercial restaurants “skinny menu”, less than 500 calories and the dessert was around 120 calories.

A few short months after this incident I deactivated all of my social media while I was in recovery. I knew I had to take a step away from the pressure of people looking at me for inspiration, and me constantly comparing, idolizing and almost obsessing over other fitness pages and athletes. Doing this allowed me to really focus on loving myself from within, having confidence in my journey and creating my relationship with God.

When I had a solid foundation of all these things, I returned to social media with a different perspective. If I was denying my journey and misleading others, how did I know they weren’t doing the same? I didn’t. Therefore, I had to focus on myself and being true to my followers on my current journey. I began talking about my struggles, recovery and exactly what I was going through and the path I was taking to incorporate balance in my life.

After that point, after I was one hundred percent myself, I began creating awesome feedback and relationships with others. These people watched my highs and lows and gave me encouragement, positive vibes and supported me. I was getting messages that I was motivating, inspiring and communicating with people going through similar situations. Social media then turned into a tool I was able to use to reach others. I am able to market myself as a person who was in this deep common struggle, who found herself out of that struggle and who can help other as well.

How has your body image changed over time?

At first, I was only concerned with getting the skinniest and leanest I could get. I did unhealthy things to maintain that look. I sacrificed my health, sanity, and most upsetting of all, memories with my boyfriend, family and friends.

I still aim to have visible muscle definition and a relatively lean appearance. However, I’m more concerned now, with in taking the appropriate macro and micro nutrients to maintain proper hormone function, fueling my body for heavy lifts and muscle growth. I’m more concerned with how I look and feel versus others in the gym or on social media because I don’t know what they truly do to maintain that look. Yes, there are area’s I’m still striving to grow, but that’s why I fell in love with bodybuilding. You can literally sculpt your body however you envision it.

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

In the beginning, seeing the changes I was making and proving to those who knew me as being “bigger” motivated me. Currently, fellow coaches on Major Gainz Fitness and my clients motivates me more than anything ever has.

I’m surrounded by people on my team and fellow coaches who are striving to break the norm in the fitness industry; all while backing statements with scientific research. They have a passion and desire to learn the science and continue learning as research evolves. The enthusiasm and knowledge is incredibly motivating.

My clients have such an incredible attitude and trust in me, as well as the process. What motivates me about them is that they aren’t willing to compromise their health for quick fix solutions. They refuse to eat low calorie, restrictive diets because they know that it’s not maintainable for life. My clients are in this for the long haul and they want it to be a lifestyle change. Seeing the impact us flexible dieters are making on others in incredibly refreshing.

If you could do it all over again, would you? 

I believe everything happens for a reason. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change anything about my journey. I went through those deep and dark addictions for a reason. I overcame those difficult times with faith in God, and valuable tools to get me through every day struggle. I found things out about myself that will allow me to push through hard times and doubt. And most importantly, I’m able to help others lead healthier lives in a safe and maintainable manner with everything I’ve learned.

What are your upcoming career goals, and how do you plan to pursuit your future with incorporating balance in your life?

Right now I’m focusing on growing as an online coach. I truly love doing what I’m doing and I’m investing all my time in promoting balance while helping others. I lost so much time and memories with my boyfriend, family and friends by solely focusing on nutrition and fitness. I now make time for my career while balancing the important relationships in my life. No matter what happens in the future, I’ll always strive to balance my relationships.

If you are interested in following Victoria’s journey you can do so through the following channels:

Instagram: @Victoriasegrave_WBFFPRO

Facebook:VictoriaSegrave_WbffPro

Email: CoachVictoria@MajorGainzFitness.Com

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IFBB PRO SONIA GONZALES QUERIDO: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

The Struggle is Real: Devoted to Unveiling All Sides of Competing

Name: Sonia Querido (Gonzales)
Occupation: Homemaker
Location: California

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(Sonia on the cover of Muscle & Fitness Her’s in October 2010)

Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Sonia! My blog has always been dedicated to spilling the truth in this industry. I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. That being said, can you fill us in a little on your background- life before competing and becoming Ms. Olympia and an IFBB Bikini Pro?

Before competing I was a full time hair stylist. I got my license right out of high school and did hair for about two years. Following that I went on to do nails for about 15 years. I was introduced to lifting weights at 16 yeas old and that’s when started working out consistently. There was a gym just around the corner from my house, and I would run there and back which would also be my cardio 5 days a week. I was hooked from then on!

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(During Sonia’s figure career that started in 2004)

When was your first show and what made you decide to compete? I know you competed in figure before becoming a IFBB Bikini Pro, what prompted you to choose figure first? Did bikini not exist at that time?

My first show was in 2001. A friend of mine started to compete and I was so intrigued so I got the name of her trainer and it all began from there! Yes I did figure first because like you mentioned bikini did not exist.

After your first show, how would you describe the weeks following? How did you handle eating? Working out? Your mental state? How was this different from the way you viewed exercise and diet previous to ever competing?

The weeks following was a whirlwind. I had gone from this strict regimented diet (program) to being kinda left in the dark (no offseason program) so of course I would try to hang on to my contest look but because I didn’t have proper off season guidance, I remember somewhat binging the weekend after the show and then I went back to my contest prep diet. Needless to say, I didn’t have a proper offseason – no rest and no room to grow, it became a vicious cycle. I didn’t allow my self any cheat meals. I always stayed so lean because I was told to stay within 5 pounds of my contest weight because it would be easier for my next prep (and I felt a lot of pressure) so thats what I did.

I know you worked with Kim Oddo of “Oddos Angels” for a long time throughout your career, do you feel your money was well invested with the coaches you worked with? Can you elaborate more on your experience with that?

I only had one coach throughout my whole career. I did think it was worth all the expense – yes and no. I would say no just because I didn’t have any balance for a good chunk of my life in which I can’t get back. If could do things differently I would have done my own research and not given one thing all my control.

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(Sonia during her 2010 Miss Olympia Win)

When did you start to notice a difference in yourself and when do you feel you really hit your “rock bottom” if you had one? Do you feel you suffered from any metabolic damage from your past with competition dieting? What was that experience like?

My husband and best friend – Coach Raymond Querido (The Online Coach ) started to point things out to me. He was going down the same road and so he started doing research and found betters ways to diet along with reverse diet and slowly found more balance within the process. We both had major metabolic damage and no balance so we started to reverse diet and rehabbed ourselves back to more normalcy. It was at the end of my career (when I retired from competing) that I noticed I needed to put more priority on my health and then I became pregnant. I knew there was no way I could sustain the bad eating habits I developed while being pregnant and raising my baby.

What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

My strongest moments were when I thought I had everything under control and my weakest would be realizing I had nothing under control. My life completely revolved around food and food timing.

As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

I would have to say balance .

What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

I would tell someone to make your family and friends a priority!

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(Sonia with her husband and daughter, Rylee, picking out there tree for Rylee’s second Christmas)

Also, do your research into IIFYM (If-it-fits-your-macros).
I know you are a big IIFYM girl now! Can you elaborate a bit about your experience with switching from “bro-dieting” to a more flexible approach?

Yes I am! I was skeptical at first, so I incorporated trying different foods slowly. Remember, I came from only eating tilapia, yams, almond butter, veggies, rice, and stevia. I was told not to eat grains, peanut butter, sugar, or dairy because I was allergic to it. Keep in mind, I was not diagnosed by a Doctor for these so called “allergies”. I had put my life in someone else’s control for so many years that these were the only food groups I would eat daily 6x a day.

When I became pregnant with Rylee I knew it couldn’t be healthy for my unborn child to not have nutrients from a variety of foods groups, so I started IIFYM when I found out I was pregnant and of course continued IIFYM into my postpartum after Rylee. The ironic thing is I was in better shape eating a flexible diet with different food groups and utilizing IIFYM then when I was on an extremely restrictive diet. Better shape meaning better then when I was competing!!! IIFYM for the win!!

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(Some of Sonia’s creative high carb pancakes she makes now that she implements flexible dieting)

I see you have reverse dieted and worked your way up to the 300+ Gram Carb Club! I am jealous! Can you explain how you did this after being on a restricted diet for so long, was the process slow/hard/easy/etc?

The process was slow but for the record I got up to the 500 Gram Carb Club with no cardio and maintained weight with just heavy ass lifting!!! I just incorporated little by little everyday and I introduced something I wouldn’t normally have into my everyday meals then it just kept progressing from there. I just trusted the process!

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(Sonia post-baby eating 450G of carbs)

I wanted to say congrats on your beautiful baby and now a second on the way! How has your body image changed with being a mom? Do you feel you are at a place of complete self acceptance within your body now?

Thank you so much! I think Rylee and my husband are my biggest reasons and the most important reasons to find balance! My body image has changed in the way that I feel like I can be more of an advocate to mothers after competing and while competing to find balance. I want to show other mothers that there is a better way while enjoying life with your loved ones and competing should be fun! You’re in the best shape of your life, you shouldn’t hate life, you should be at your happiest because you have balance!

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What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

I’ve actually have fallen in love with weight training again which is exciting. Hitting PR’s (personal records) and then eating ice cream and Oreos and making it all fit my macros is fun and motivating! I’m not deprived, I’m satisfied watching my body change in a positive way. I feel strong and powerful and now happy that I can share this with my kids, husband, family, and friends. I’m WINNING!!!

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Do you have plans to compete again in the future? It seemed to me you were gearing up to possibly compete before finding out you were pregnant again (or maybe you just looked so good I thought you were). Wondering if you will continue with the bikini division or what your long term goals may be?

No, I’ve retired – I had a good 15 year run. I’m in the next chapter of my life with my kids, husband and family!

If you are interested in following Sonia’s journey, you can do so through the following social media channels:

IG: Soniaquerido
Facebook: Ifbb Sonia Querido
Twitter: @sonia_querido
Email: soniagobikini@yahoo.com

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SEXYFIT FOUNDER ZLATA SUSHCHIK: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

SEXYFIT FOUNDER ZLATA SUSHCHIK: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

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Name: Zlata Sushchik

Age: 24

Occupation: Lifestyle Coach, Sports Nutritionist and Founder of Sexyfit

Location: San Diego, CA

Thank you for having me Amber. I just want to warn everyone who is reading this is the most honest truth about what competing was like for me. I certainly don’t want to jade anyone from stepping on stage but I hope this can really help some current competitors or women who are considering getting into this sport.

Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Zlata. My blog has always been dedicated to spilling the truth in this industry. I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. I know you have had your fair shares of ups and downs in this industry which is why I reached out to feature you, and congrats on your success! That being said, can you fill us in on a little background about yourself?

I relocated to the United States from Moscow, Russia when I was 15. At the time I could only say two worlds “Hello” and “Big Mac”. My mom was a traveling journalist who fell madly in love with Alaska during her work assignment and decided to make it her permanent residence. When I lived in Russia, I was a vocal singer and a piano player for 8 years and actually have formal music school education. I have competed in a total of 26 shows and didn’t place in only 3 of them. I am a founder of an online wellness coaching company called Sexyfit where we combine nutrition, fitness and accountability to help women get in the best shape of their life.

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I know you were into beauty pageants prior to competing, so what made you transition to bodybuilding shows and when was your first show?

It’s a great question Amber. Actually, during my first year in the US, after piano and vocal singing was no longer occupying my free time, I somehow ended up competing in my first fitness show. To be honest it really wasn’t an accident. I just really wanted to have friends and lose a few pounds I gained eating lots of processed food. My friends were doing it and I simply agreed to the whole “shenanigan” not knowing what I was getting myself into. (I would like to also note that prior to training for the show, I never even ran a timed mile and my Russian friends still laugh at the fact I am an experienced competitor). As expected, my first show was a total fiasco but it ignited a new passion –fitness. I did about five shows before I actually competed for Miss Alaska Teen. I didn’t want to ask my mom or take a student loan and I knew that Miss Universe and Miss Alaska Foundations award a full ride college scholarship. After holding the title of Miss Alaska Teen for a year, I went back to competing.

I was a competitor before competing was cool or “a thing” to do. There was no Facebook, no Instagram and I basically was raised in an environment with old and grundy Powerhouse gym training and real big grungy bodybuilders.

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When did you start to notice a difference in yourself and when do you feel you really hit your “rock bottom”? What was that experience like?

I LOVED my early years of competing but I wasn’t very strict about my diet during the first few shows I competed in. I would eat healthy year round and maybe work out 2-3 times per week and would train 2x per day and diet for only about 6 weeks before the actual shows date. I never did more than 45 minutes of cardio though and ate tons of carbs. Competing was fun for me. I loved the energy. I loved the people. I loved my coaches. I loved my body. When I was running for the state pageant, I didn’t even diet. Competing was a fun thing I did to stay healthy. It was never about turning “pro” or doing it to put another piece of hardware on the shelf.

In 2010, I won state show, placed top 3 at the USA’s and won Collegiate Nationals and placed top 5 at North Americans. I was in- season for 32 weeks! It was the first season when I trained intensely and dieted for such a long period of time. Tilapia, cardio, some binge eating after the shows for 2-3 days, but I was able to go back to normal life about 6 weeks after that. Honestly, It was probably the best year of my life. Everything was falling into place, I had a great time on stage and while it was harder and harder to diet down for every show, I still felt healthy physically and mentally. Actually, I was very productive in all areas of my life like my full time job, full time college class schedule and social life. However, competing in 2010 came with some sacrifices, I turned down an internship with the state Senator and living in Washington DC for the summer.

I skipped 2011 season entirely. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to compete but because every time I would start back on my competition “diet”, I would just binge 2-3 days into it and beat myself over it. I trained really hard in previous season and I felt like I really needed to up level myself this time around and bring a new “package” to stage. Mentally and physically, I just wasn’t there and didn’t really want to put myself though an exhausting year. I was told my coaches and local judges I was favored to be the next big PRO. OMG, guys? ME? PRO? At this bikini thing? WOW, must be awesome. I didn’t compete at all because I couldn’t get my shit together (as everyone was saying) and focused more on finishing my college degree and finding a job. I didn’t want to miss out on career opportunities again. I felt as a huge failure and like I let down a lot of my supporters, coaches, friends.

Rock bottom really hit when I came back in 2012 .Thats when my life really started revolving around food, show talk, gym, show prep. Competing was my life. Every single picture I have from my phone from 2011, 2012 is about competing. If you didn’t compete and want to talk to me about competing, I didn’t talk to you. I was “focused”. I lived around 6 meals a day. I lived around gym time. I lived around comparing myself to every other competitor out there and didn’t “reveal” my “physique” until the day of the show. I remember how excited I was but it was really hard mentally because that’s all I focused on. It was also hard physically because I spent a big portion of my life at the gym. It was hard socially too. I remember everyone in the office hating the smell of tilapia and I honestly thought at one point I was going to get fired for it :). I didn’t have a lot of friends at the time because all I talked about was THE show or my carb count.

At that time, I noticed that every bikini girl who turned pro had a breast augmentation (don’t ever even think that you need boobs to win a show). I was thinking, duh, you wanna win you get boobs! DUH? So I did, and 6 weeks after surgery I stepped on stage at Emerald Cup and placed 3rd. I already have dieted and done enormous amount of cardio for 24 weeks or so. I went on to two nationals and came home with nothing. In fact, I was dead last at both national shows. Now, I wasn’t even winning and I have do to all this? CRAP! LOL 🙂 I looked great but far from my best.

What happened I thought? I worked so hard to bring this new “physique” and new “package” and I just look worse? It’s 10x harder to maintain and mentally I felt like such a failure. I also should mention the confusion that was going on in my head. How come these girls do “this” and look like “that” and I do “that” and look like “this”. My coach just said eat less carbs and do more cardio… Sigh.

What actually happened was, my body was so starved and so depleted of nutrients that I got hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue. I looked swollen, felt like I had no energy ever and had to take 2 fat burners just to stay alive and alert. I didn’t know this until 2013 really. It just how my body was, I thought.

I don’t have very many photos from that year. I literally felt because I wasn’t 114 pounds, I wasn’t worthy of a picture, a boyfriend or a compliment toward myself. Shopping – out of the question. Your coach tells you that this is normal and you should just be stronger then your mind. Your body SCREAMS otherwise. After last show, I ate so much that on the plane home I swelled up to like 25 pounds more. My cravings were so out of control it didn’t really matter what I ate. I was whatever was in the house. Beans and bread, ok! Tortilla and honey, alright! Whole plate of broccoli, sold.

I avoided the grocery store and never bought anything I could “cheat” with. I had zero self control and it was just really sad because I am not the type of person to lose control over anything. I would go out or to a party and eat a lot because “this is this one time I can have this”. Worst part about all of this that I would punish”myself for not having self control and literally kill myself with cardio the next day.

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I know you had your fair share of different coaches along the way, including some “big names” like Kim Oddo of “Oddos Angels”, do you feel your money was well invested with these coaches or can you elaborate more on your experience with that?

Great question. I am one of the most stubborn people you will ever meet. The only way to win was to get on the winning team, right? So, I quit my job, packed my bags and moved to San Diego to be a part of the Oddo’s Angels.

It wasn’t the only reason I moved but it was a big part of the reason why I chose San Diego. That season, even though I was traveling internationally 90% of the time for my job, I pushed harder then I ever had before when I was coached by Kim. My life again, was largely about competing. I was lunging 70 pounds, squatting 150 and lifting the heaviest I possibly could. My diet was so on point, I ate on alarms. I didn’t do much outside of work and gym for like 2-3 month because I was so focused. I wanted to win and I wanted it bad!

I remember I had an epiphany moment standing in front of the mirror taking another selfie (go figure). I hated how I looked. I hated my big quads that didn’t fit into jeans. I hated that my back wouldn’t fit into coats. I hated taking a picture straight on because my shoulders got so much wider. I competed again, walked away 6th from the show. I promised to myself I will never ever ever ever again step on stage. It’s not Kim’s fault at all. I honestly wasn’t even following what he gave me to the T as far as my work outs go…

This is my advice if you invest in coaching. Follow the plan. Your trust that coach, you paid them money. Invest in yourself and if the plans seems reasonable ( no two hour of cardio a day or tilapia 5 times a day) stick with that plan.

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What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

Best moment? When I stood in front of that mirror and I knew this wasn’t the life for me. I knew I was not meant to be the woman who talks about carbs and fats all day. I knew I shouldn’t spend 3 hours of my life at the gym, I knew I can do so much more with that time. I hated how I looked and that I compared myself to everyone else and wanted to be what judges wanted me to be. I thought, I have an MBA, I love art, I love hiking, I love all kinds of things and if I gave those things half the effort I dedicated to competing, where would I be? I knew this wasn’t ME.

Worst moment? I had all my hormonal levels checked and doc looked at me and said “you either have kids, or you compete”. GULP! My thyroid and my adrenals were barely producing any hormones and no wonder, I just kept gaining fat and craving everything that I could get my hands on.

When a doctor tells you that you can’t have babies thats a wake up moment. You should never lose your period ladies. NEVER. This helped me really see how messed up things were.

I took a nutritional certification which wasn’t bro-science. I completed another training cert. I studied under a naturopath for a few month. I basically did my own research instead of Googling my health.

As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

Honestly, I really want to compete again but I don’t like what “Bikini” class standards have turned into. I also know that I will never have a “winning set of glutes” (insert a laugh here). It’s all about big glutes, tight hamstrings, big quads and I don’t that. I like having small legs and I am totally ok with the size of my rear end. Therefore, if I ever compete again it would only be for me to show myself and others I can do in without ruining myself again.

I came to a conclusion after my last show that I will love me for me. There are no longer days where I stand in the mirror and pinch my side fat, poke my butt and wonder when it will grow or wish I had capped shoulders.

Now, I choose to I love myself for who I am. I love my body, my small butt, my current abs right now (not if i lose 10 pounds) and it took me a really long time to understand that its about becoming the best version of yourself.

We often times treat fitness as some sort of struggle. We try to fix anger, insecurity, prove a point and punish ourselves for something. It’s suppose to be fun! I treat my body and my ability to work out as a gift. I have a healthy enough body and mind not to ever put myself though competing again.

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What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

Mentally – look within yourself and see what you true motivation is to compete in a show. If it’s a negative emotion -proving her right, keeping the title, showing him what he lost, fixing anger, proving to yourself your self -worth or anything else along those lines, stop competing right now.

I see so many fitness competitors schedule shows and compete without job, careers, direction, education or any clue about they are doing with their life because they are in hiding from their own true potential. There is life outside of competing and it’s quite amazing actually.

Physically – try everything. I recently ran a half-marathon. I am thinking about doing a tri even though I can’t swim. I lift in supersets and light some days and heavy other days. I do kickboxing, yoga, spin, tabata, plyos or whatever else to mix up my routine. There is no one road to fitness.

Nutritionally – this is a hard one depending how messed up your hormones are. But journaling why you eat and when you eat really helps you see your patterns of behavior and cravings. Just be honest with yourself and eat when you are hungry.

What methods of nutrition have you or do you currently use to help with balance? IIFYM, Intuitive Eating, Fasting, Specific Meal Planning, etc?

I have three different nutritional certifications and every one of them taught me something different. I am a HUGE advocate of cleaner IIFYM. Meaning, you will never catch me dead pilling up fries, white pasta, cream, cheese, candy just because it fits my macros. I think industry flipped a great concept of having a balance and turned it into numbers game for how much junk food we can really have. I eat organic chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef only, organic eggs. I stay away from dairy and gluten because they are not the best sources of fuel for my thyroid. I recently did an online summit of world- class 35 experts about nutrition and fitness and I have a couple of GMO experts and a Washington lobbyist who really drilled down how the dairy and gluten process works and I tend to stay away from those sources of calories 99% of the time. I do eat a LOT of carbs. I tend to be at around 150-180 gr a day (used to be under 50 and no fruit). I got back up to my calorie count by reverse dieting. I also took on long distance running and do about 10-12 miles a week and on long run days my carbs are 220 gr. I track my food on MyFitnessPal when I start to skip meals. I have to have my 5 meals a day or I am sluggish and have zero energy. I like shakes and quest bars and occasionally drink wine or whiskey.

I don’t think enough competitors talk about their drinking habits because it’s either nothing or from 0- hero in no time because diet starts “next day”. Occasional glass of wine will not make you fat.

There is also one more thing to mention, when you compete your social life goes out of the window and you feel like it just throws you off track when you go out with friends. I am not talking about getting wasted at the club every weekend but just having parties with girlfriends or family. We lock ourselves at the gym on Friday and Saturday nights and think that we are so darn fit and dedicated for not going out. I think having a social circle is extremely important to feel like you have balance in your life. When I was in earlier stage of competing, I would still go out with friends and eat healthier options at restaurants and drink tons of water. When I “focused” and stopped socializing is when I really started to lose my mind.

I know you are big into hormonal balance. Can you elaborate your personal and professional experiences with hormone related issues you may have faced and what you have done to balance them?

I am really glad you asked me about this. I certainly believe that hormonal issues are largely discounted in the industry. They are usually perceived as lack of self- control or dedication. Here is the deal, if you think you are tired, sleepy, loopy, gaining fat for no reason, irrational, emotional and if you feel like the world is against you. “Oh, you are just carb depleted honey” or “it’s ok to lose your period” or “this is how things are supposed to be”. Do not listen. Your body will tell you everything you need to know.

There are three different types of tests that I recommend for all of my clients who have done at least 1 show. You need to know what your levels of progesterone, estrogen, adrenals, t4, t3 (thyroid hormones) are. They can be done via blood, saliva or urine. They are simple tests that you can request at your local clinic or OBGYN office.

It’s very common for fitness competitors to have hypo-thyrodism. Its a condition where you body does not produce enough thyroid hormone. I am about to get nerdy for a moment here but you really should know this information.

What is a thyroid? Thyroid gland is an endocrine gland that is located in front of our neck. Its responsible for metabolic rate, heart (temperature regulation), digestive function (constipation), muscle control, moods and countless other things.
Hypothyroidism results in decreased metabolic rate. This causes symptoms which include fatigue, intolerance of cold temperatures, low heart rate, weight gain, reduced appetite, poor memory, depression stiffness of muscles and infertility. (YourHormones, 2014).

When you over exercise and under-eat, as all of us do, this is the first thing that can explain uncontrollable cravings, unexplained weight gain, mood swings ( common during “carb- depletion”), fatigue (think of the weeks leading up to the show).

I see that HITT style training, plyometrics are becoming very popular during the last weeks leading up the show. But what trainers do not consider that yes, that style of training works really well shedding off unwanted pounds, but it’s not the most ideal type of training for women who have even a slight inclination toward not producing enough thyroid hormones. It can cause what is commonly known as “adrenal fatigue” or “ adrenal unsuffiency”. Essentially, it decreases circulating levels of stress hormones, or perhaps more frequently, decreased sensitivity to them. This has been supposed to be a defense mechanism against the catabolic and deleterious effects of training and stress-hormone release.

Dysregulated cortisol metabolism, caused by overtraining, is a major pathological inhibitor of training adaptations. During exercise, corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus stimulates growth hormone and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) release from the pituitary gland. ACTH subsequently stimulates the adrenal gland to release cortisol particularly following exercise at high intensities. Acute elevations in cortisol are integral to training adaptations and actually go on to reduce inflammation via a negative-feedback mechanism16. Cortisol causes subsequent alleviation of catabolic stress responses when released acutely following high intensity exercise. However, chronic elevations in basal cortisol levels only serve to act as a continual catabolic stimulus and are involved with muscle wasting and a plethora of adverse health outcomes.

In an athletes who are constantly trying to drop body fat this can often become a vicious cycle of over training in order to achieve weight targets. The increased training exacerbates the adrenal issues and compounds the problems – in addition thyroid activity will lower in medium to longer term over training and excess exposure to stressors. The tendency in this case can be to administer thyroid hormone replacement therapy, which may worsen the adrenal fatigue as the whole system is pushed further by upregulating thyroid activity, when in reality the body’s defensive mechanisms are slowing the whole process down. Furthermore, supplementation with stimulant fat burning supplements will compound this problem.

Yes, HITT style training is extremely beneficial if want to shed unwanted pounds and increase your endurance, however we should be extremely cautious of this style of training if our thyroid isn’t functioning well.

I have to warn you. Do not self diagnose yourself. There also has been a lot of talk about so called “metabolic damage” and how every competitor who has ever stepped on stage has experienced it. I am not sure how metabolic damage is measured. I do know that if you know your hormonal levels and actively are taking vitamins, minerals and other proper supplementation, these issues can be fixed without medication.

How has your body image changed over time? Do you feel you are at a place of complete self acceptance within your body now?

I would say I have a healthy self image now. I don’t check out my abs in the mirror every daay and go “omg, i look fluffy”. 🙂 I love me for me. I don’t want to look like her and compare myself to anyone. This is HUGE. Everyone else is not you. What judges are looking for an what industry standards want you to look like are not the measurements of my self worth anymore.

Be proud of yourself every day. Show off your confidence. Take photos. Insecurities wouldn’t go away even if you are 10 pounds lighter. This is honestly mostly what I do with every competitor client of mine when they walk though the door. Competing beats you down because you are constantly comparing yourself to others.

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

A plan motivates me. When I lay out my plan and complete it, it keeps me motivated to do more 🙂 Running personal records are motivating. I was never a runner but now I love it. I recently flipped all my work outs to be in the morning and thats been quite a change but I love it. The more I challenge myself, the more motivated I am. But, I dislike the word motivation in general. You either do it or you don’t. Fitness really teaches you the art of follow though, committing to yourself and making time for yourself. Not in a selfish way but in a way that gives your strength and power to serve others things in life like your family, friends, career, faith, education. Fitness serves as a foundation for our life. It can’t be your life. It’s what you do in order to have mental and physical balance and yes, to look great. We tend to miss that when we compete and lose balance. Thats why so many eventually crumble because we put our eggs in one basket and expect to be happy. When we don’t meet our own expectation or expectation others placed on us, there is nothing else to fall back on and be happy about because there is no foundation. Do you know what I mean?

I definitely know what you mean Zlata! So I have to ask, if you could do it all over again, would you?

Absolutely. I would do it very differently now though. It was an amazing journey. Everyone should compete at least once to see how far they can push their body and their mind. I loved every minute on stage and being surrounded by so much love and support from friends and family. I learned so much about myself, my boundaries, self-esteeem, self-control, get shit done attitude, art of follow though, setting goals, inspiring other

What are your upcoming career goals, and how do you plan to pursuit your future with incorporating balance in your life?

I am so excited that I am full filling my dream to inspire other women to get healthy. I started Sexyfit in hopes to inspired, motivate and deliver the proper education to women of all shapes in sized to get in the best shape of their life. It honestly been the most rewarding experience and I am so humbled by all the women in our online community.

Since I mentioned Sexyfit, right now I am working on Sexy Through The Holidays campaign where I am motivating people to stay on track with their fitness goals during the season. Its SO HARD!

I wrote an e-book and recently released a 3 part video course. You can find it here Also, every Wednesday up until the end of the season, I am hosting LIVE Google Hangouts where I talk about eating healthy, working out, finding motivation, handling stress and enjoying the holidays.

As far as my fitness goals, I am running a half marathon again in December and in February 2015. Honestly, I would really love to do a triathlon. I don’t know how to swim or bike, this is going to be a challenge. But I am so ready for it 🙂

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If you are interested in following Zlata’s story and her SexyFit Campaign, you can do so through the following social media channels:

Instagram & Twitter: @zlatasushchik

Facebook: www.facebook.com/iamsexyfit

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IFBB PRO DIANA BECKER: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

The Struggle is Real: Devoted to Unveiling All Sides of the Fitness Industry

Name: Diana Becker
Age: 30
Occupation: Online coach/Personal Trainer
Location: Seattle

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Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Diana!  I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. I have been familiar with your story for a while as we are both from the North West and I have watched you go from the small stages of the Washington NPC shows to being on the Olympia stage, but for those who don’t know much about you can you fill them in on a little background about yourself and where you are at now with your fitness career?

I have been a personal trainer for almost 10 years now. I began training for a fitness competition after the birth of my son in 2004 and competed in the fitness division. Fast forward a couple of years to 2009 when bikini came out I gave it a try! I definitely felt like it was a better fit for me. I joined Team Bombshell in 2010 and began the journey with the goal of becoming an IFBB PRO. Through the past couple of years I have fulfilled that and every goal I ever set for myself. At this point I am home in Seattle being a mom and coaching women to all sorts of goals in and off the stage. I don’t have any plans to compete any time soon but work with Cyclone Cup and have my girls to be with at competitions so I get my fill.

When was your first show and what made you want to compete?

2005 I competed in fitness as a goal for getting back in shape post pregnancy. I think we all get into it for the challenge and many of us get wrapped up in the constant attention and affirmation that comes from looking so abnormally fit.

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After your first show, how would you describe the weeks following? How did you handle eating? Working out? Your mental state? How was this different from the way you viewed exercise and diet previous to ever competing?

Well, I had an eating disorder that started in high school. For me, in the early days of competing, it was a healthy outlet for me to appreciate my body and learn about what actually worked to help me look the way I wanted to look. Once I became a pro and had a lot of expectations surrounding me it definitely became an added stress. Something to manage that had expectation attached to it. My relationship with food deteriorated. My relationship with my body deteriorated. My sense of self aside from how I looked in the current moment all but disappeared.

At one point in the weeks following a show I would do the typical post show binge. Man, at one point I retained so much water from a week of “fun” that on the flight home my ankles swelled so bad it actually hurt to walk.

Prior to competing seriously, I never experienced that. I was disciplined and regimented. I was in pretty good shape and I worked out daily and ate pretty well. I stayed within 3-5 lbs of my normal weight which was a healthy, fit, 125 lbs.

How many shows have you done since your first and why do you or didn’t you continue to compete? I have followed your journey for a while and know that you were with Team Bombshell, do you hold any resentment towards the rigidness of the plans you were put on? I also know that you did a TON of shows when you started competing at the national level, you were a machine! I always asked myself, how does she keep going… can you elaborate on that experience?

How many shows…I have actually lost count…..close to 40 at this point.

By now, I’ve won my pro card, competed at The Olympia twice, placed 7th at The Arnold, competed internationally, won a pro show, had an amazing sponsor…man…there is not much I haven’t done. I think that now, as a single mom of an almost 10 year old, it’s time that I spend the money I would use to travel to shows, on my kiddo. Take him to Disney or be able to put him into music lessons. I had an amazing career but priorities shift and I am so excited to experience new things as a coach. Thankfully going through the metabolic breakdown and the ensuing forced break in competing gave me the space I needed to really learn to love who I am again. Im lucky I learned to value myself based on intangibles and really get self reflective about the way I was living my life. I let a lot of things go to the wayside in order to achieve what I did. It is time that I put my value on who I am and place my priorities in an order that leads to lasting happiness.

I was a part of team bombshell. As a coach, I try to take what I loved about the atmosphere and the training process and use that stuff and let go of what I didn’t love. There is a certain empowering atmosphere that can be felt and I appreciated that greatly. It definitely helped to shape me. With my girls, I’m more one on one and hands on than I felt like I had the opportunity to be with my coaches by the time I left. I certainly won’t be coaching more than I can realistically handle. I don’t take the “whatever it takes” attitude with them.

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When did you start to notice a difference in yourself and when do you feel you really hit your “rock bottom”?  What was that experience like?

I had pushed my body past a healthy point. I had competed in close to 20 shows over the course of 2 years and even when my body became resistant I still pushed it to continue on. That was the fall of 2012. I was already in the middle of a divorce and had moved across the country in order to remove myself from a very toxic situation only to get involved with a toxic situation and it was just a lot for my wellbeing. At that point I really found very little value in myself off the stage. My identity had to do largely with how I looked and how well I placed in the latest show.

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What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

Well immediately I thought of the moment I won my pro card, but it’s so easy to feel strong when you’re on top. In really reflecting I know my biggest moments when my strength showed thru when I got back up onstage for the NY Pro this year. A lot of very difficult things had transpired since the day i won my pro card and I could have quit many times over but I wanted to finish competing for me and me alone and that’s what doing that show was for me.

My weakest moment was definitely when I competed at St. Louis. I was still recovering from the metabolic issues I had, I had agreed to compete, but I was working an insane amount outside of the industry, my personal life was inexplicably awful, far away from my family, it was me competing for everyone else at a time when I really needed to take care of myself. Instead I did the opposite.

 

As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

Honestly, I have never been in a better place. I feel like my relationship with food and my body is better than it has ever been. I struggled pretty publicly to recover from metabolic damage and that taught me so much about valuing myself on things that have nothing to do with how I look. My biggest struggle will probably always be not reverting to that line of thinking. Reminding myself always who I am is much more than a number on the scale.

I try to be a really solid example to the women I coach. I want them to feel empowered by the process and excited about their ability to achieve goals even when their prep has ended.

My struggle…has become my strength.

What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

Learning to love my body at all states has taken the panic out of contest prep. Seeing myself to be the same beautiful soul at 145 lbs as I can be at 115 lbs has empowered me to live in a state of balance and normalcy. It has allowed me to eat in a way that leads to how I want to look most of the time and have a little fun with out the pressure of needing to be a certain weight or ideal for stage. In my opinion, I’ve never looked better and that is a result of my relaxed, non panicked, non judgmental approach.

What methods of nutrition have you or do you currently use to help with balance? IIFYM, Intuitive Eating, Fasting, Specific Meal Planning, etc?

I have used IIFYM, meal plans, and intuitive eating in the past year. At this point I just cook a bunch of chicken, fish, or whatever protein I’m craving and use whatever in season produce I can gather to fulfill my macros. It makes eating more fun and gives me more variety. If I were to have a shoot I just eliminate the cheats and extras I enjoy in times I am not focused on a physique driven event.

I have never done intermittent fasting. I’ve heard great things about it, but I love to eat…maybe I’ll try it just to experiment but idk…I LOVE to eat. Haha. Even if it’s plain green beans and chicken breast.

How has social media/the fitness industry influenced the way you view yourself?

Well there was a point I needed the validation so much. I was really lost and hurting. I’ve actually left much of the pictures I posted then on my Instagram. Some of them are downright embarrassing to see when I see them with the perspective I have now. BUT I’ve left them there so that if anyone in encouraged by seeing the shift in thinking that has really brought about the transformation of my life, it’s there.

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How has your body image changed over time?

Well I’m proud of my body at this point but it’s not my identity. That’s the biggest change. I’m so much more than how I look. In reality, how I look is just a reflection of the incredible transformation happening in my heart, soul, and mind. If for some reason I wasn’t in as good of shape I don’t think it would take on the shame and devastation that it brought on before. I can get back in shape, and sometimes, something’s are more important. Perspective is powerful. For example, when I was pregnant with Braden I was absolutely miserable. I hated how I looked and because my identity was found in that, I hated myself the entire time. I did not enjoy a single moment. I loathed absolutely every part and when he was born all I could think about was how awful I looked. I tell the pregnant women I know now to be careful with themselves. It’s a time that is special and really only happens a few times in our lifetimes we should take great care to nurture our bodies with our thoughts. We are creating another human being with our body and it deserves love, that baby deserves to have you love yourself with your thinking so that it is raised in an environment of love from the very beginning.

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

I am motivated by being the woman God created me to be. I believe I have a purpose. I believe He wants me to help other women take care of themselves. I believe he’s given me a unique perspective and much success to have a platform to speak from. I believe He has given me courage to share my experiences and the desire to empower and encourage women to be the happiest they can be.

It’s changed dramatically. At one point I only cared about being successful onstage. Thankfully I experienced much success and have the knowledge and wisdom to know that that does not equate success nor long term fulfillment. I had an absolute blast and am certainly so fortunate and extremely blessed to have been given the opportunities I had but part of me looks back and thinks, if only you knew how to really enjoy the success while still knowing who you were with or without it. It really would have been so much sweeter.

If you could do it all over again, would you? I know you have your son Braden as well, can you tell me if you felt like you ever “missed out” on experiences with him due to competition prep or extremes?

Yes I would. I know it’s part of my story. It’s part of what gives me the insight and words to encourage other women to look how they want to without it becoming their identity.

I missed out on a lot with Braden. I was married when I started competing seriously and missed out on a lot there too. If I had been more present maybe things wouldn’t have deteriorated to the point they did. I moved far away from him and pursued things that are not worth near as much as the time I lost but you know, I can point to the above statement on that as well. It’s all a learning experience and thankfully, gratefully, I am a better mom for it. I am a happier woman because of it.

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What are your upcoming career goals, and how do you plan to pursuit your future with incorporating balance in your life?

Well, I’m finding my way. I moved home to Seattle and took a job at my old gym. I’ve started really putting positive energy into my professional life and it is paying off greatly. I train clients online, both competitors and non competitors. I feel lucky. I’m blessed by each client. From my single moms who inspire me to my little brand new competitors who come offstage with their eyes wide wondering “what just happened?” Each one teaches me. Each one gives me the avenue to encourage and empower daily. I couldn’t be happier with the group of women allowing me to lead them.

 

If you are interested in following and supporting Ashley’s continued journey to balance, please follow her through the following channels:

Facebook: Www.facebook.com/dianabecker

Twitter: @dianaleighbecker

Instagram: @dianabecker12

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WBFF PRO ASHLEY HOFFMANN: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

The Struggle is Real: Devoted to Unveiling All Sides of the Fitness Industry

Name: Ashley Sarina Hoffmann
Age: 26
Occupation: Spray Tan Artist, Online Coach
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Ashley! My blog has always been dedicated to spilling the truth regarding the struggles we go through in this industry and our personal struggles associated with it. I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. I know you have had your fair shares of ups and downs in this industry which is why I reached out to feature you, and congrats on your success! That being said, can you fill us in on a little background about yourself and where you are at now with your fitness career?

Thank you for asking me to be part of this journey to spread the truth in our industry. I feel like so many athletes hide the truth because they are afraid. Not afraid to speak the truth but are afraid they will be looked down upon if they do, as if there is something wrong with them. Truth is, we all struggle. We share our stories because we want to reach out and let others know that they aren’t alone and that they don’t have to be afraid anymore.

A little about myself; I have always been athletic. I was in sports even before I entered kindergarden. I have always been competitive and loved the reward of doing well in sports. It was fun and rewarding to me. In high school I was involved in varsity track and field. I did every sprinting event, opens and relays. As well as long and triple jump, 100 and 300 hurdles. I was a busy bee for track and field and could get away with eating whatever I wanted since I was so active and only weighed no more than 100lbs. I also rode horses as well but that died out as soon as I graduated high school. After high school, I went to college like most. I wasn’t involved with sports and just focused on school. I didn’t really know what to do sports wise so I just ran 3 miles every day and did abs, never touched the weights. In college I got a little carried away with drinking and going out every night of the week and it lead to me dropping out. I was really unhappy with how much weight I gained. I eventually met a friend that convinced me to start lifting with him. I was addicted instantly and became even more addicted once I started seeing muscle. That was the start of it all for me.

Currently, I have hung up the competition bikini for a bit and am focusing on my health and decided to start powerlifting. I love lifting heavy and always have. The powerlifting community is so welcoming and motivational. I’ve loved every second of it compared to being in the gym with bodybuilders around me. Just a more welcoming environment. Powerlifting is letting me focus on strength compared to working about my abs. It also is giving my body a break because in the past, I was overworking my body too much and resulted in many health issues.

When was your first show and what made you want to compete?

My first show was a local Wisconsin show in April of 2012. I didn’t have any expectations going into the show and just went on stage to have fun. I ended up winning my height class as well as bikini overall. After that, I became addicted to competing. It was a blast to be on stage, as well as placing well. I had so many positive words passed along to me from judges and Pro athletes that were at the show. This gave me fuel to continue competing as well as being naturally competitive. Competing just became something that I did yearly, almost routine like. I enjoyed it a lot.

After your first show, how would you describe the weeks following? How did you handle eating? Working out? Your mental state? How was this different from the way you viewed exercise and diet previous to ever competing?

I had a few months between my first few shows and I was still new to the competing game. So I just did what I was told by an old coach. Then as time went on and more shows under my belt, I felt myself constantly looking at myself in the mirror and becoming more obsessive with my image. I would feel depressed about not being as lean. I would obsess over food as well. I felt guilty eating things and felt lost. Which would cause me want to start a prep so I could do I show. I was obsessed with being lean. I loved the look, I loved seeing definition. After winning my Pro card and reverse dieting the healthy way, I still was unhappy with the fact I was getting ‘fluffy’. I want to stress that the word ‘fluffy” is a word fitness competitors use when we have even a little layer of fat over us. We don’t use it to describe others but we are so used to being lean that the ‘fluff’ that is added is just a light layer of fat that is healthy and is needed. Anyways, I think the biggest struggle mentally, was when I started prep for my Pro debut. I kept comparing myself to my stage look for the year before, which caused a lot of stress for me. I fell into depression because I let my looks determine my happiness. This recent struggle with my health really made me depressed. It was and still is really hard for me to see myself look nothing like I have in my past. I have to remember though, my health isn’t what it was and that I have to get better. My looks do not determine the person I am. I currently switched to powerlifting to give my body a break physically and mentally. It has helped a lot actually. I also have been surrounding myself with more positive people in my life and it also has helped a lot. As far as eating, it was a bit of a struggle this time post show since my body was reacting in a way it never has with gaining weight very rapidly. I currently am being very careful and slowly raising my macros.

How many shows have you done since your first and why do you or didn’t you continue to compete? I have followed your journey for a while and know that you were with a few different coaches in the past- some bringing your calories down to 800 kcal/day! Can you explain to me what this was like and do you regret listening?

I have done two local, national qualifying shows and after that I decided to head to a National stage. I then competed at Jr. Nationals and then Team Universe. After two National shows in the NPC, I decided I was going to switch over and try a Wbff show because I was a bit too muscular for the bikini division in NPC but too small for figure. I competed at Wbff Worlds in the bikini and fitness diva division. I ended up winning my Pro card as a Fitness Diva. I was beyond thrilled and felt I was finally rewarded for all the hard work I put in. Not that I wouldn’t stop working hard if I wasn’t awarded my Pro status.

After, I took 7 months off for my offseason. Wbff doesn’t have many Pro shows, so Worlds was the only show I could really pick from to make my Pro debut. I was in the mindset and routine that I had to compete every year. It was like I didn’t know what I would do if I didn’t compete since I was so used to stepping on stage every year. It wasn’t until this year that I realized that I don’t need to compete to become a leader in the fitness industry and inspire others and teach the proper way of living a healthy lifestyle, mentally and physically. I never regret anything from what I did or listened to in my past. It has just made me grow as an individual and has made me gain more knowledge as far as what’s healthy and what isn’t. I have been though drastically low calories (as little as less than 500 calories), depletion, depression, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, health issues and a few other things. Even though these things haven’t been very positive, I still have grown from them and am stronger from it.

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When did you start to notice a difference in yourself and when do you feel you really hit your “rock bottom” in your journey- if you had one? What was that experience like?

I have lost a few very close people to me while I was training for shows. That was always very difficult for me but still made it through. I have been through some very difficult times health wise as well. The biggest set back has been recently. After I won my Pro card in August of 2013, I began reverse dieting. The struggles to accept not being as lean as I was became a big challenge for me. I was eager to start my prep for my Pro debut for Wbff Worlds 2014. My health was slowly coming back from the drastic training and dieting I had went through in my past. So I thought I would be ready to start my prep. This was not the case though.

This past prep for my Pro debut was the biggest challenge of my life. I want to make it known that I was working with Layne Norton, who is an amazing coach. Most people blame their coaches for issues they have during prep, Layne is not the reason I had issues at all. My struggles were that my body did not respond to anything we did at all. We both were very confused as to what was going on but I continued with my prep giving it my all. I would have workouts that I cried and wanted to give up because I was giving it my everything and then some. People that know me and see me workout, know that I am a very hard worker in the gym. So it wasn’t a matter of I wasn’t working hard enough. That was part of my issue though, I was working too hard and my body couldn’t respond. If I didn’t work as hard, my body would be in set back mode. So I had to over work my over training, if that makes sense. I made it to show day. I was happy I made it however I was unhappy with my show physique. I knew something wasn’t right when I hadn’t lost hardly any weight all of prep and I didn’t look anywhere close to my physique from the year before. But, I put those thoughts behind me and stepped on stage. This was the start of the end for me.

After my show, I had only a few meals like any competitor would. I went home and got back to counting my macros and thinking things were fine. A few days after my show, my whole body swelled up. It was to the point I couldn’t even walk without being in pain and feeling like my skin was ripping. I didn’t know what was going on so I went to the doctors. I was afraid because the next month was Olympia and I had a few huge photoshoots planned. My test results said nothing was wrong. It didn’t make sense but just tried my best to try and get my body back to normal and get ready for my shoots and Olympia. I ended up making it, although the look I brought wasn’t my best, but it was the best I could do with what was going on.

After Olympia, my body reacted the same way it did after my show. This time it was even worse. I went to another doctor and had more bloodwork done. This leads me to where I am now. I received my bloodwork back and now know that I have hyperthyroidism, a damaged kidney and liver, dangerously low vitamin d levels, and my reproductive hormones are not what they should be. With gaining a lot of weight since my show in August without having very high of calories, this all made sense as to why my body was reacting and reacted the way it had during prep and post show. It was a HUGE wakeup call for me and something I feel happened for a reason. I was in this constant ‘grind mode’ and never had slowed down and literally burned myself out to the point my body shut down. I currently just started medication and hope that things start to balance out and that my weight comes down slightly so I feel a little more comfortable in my skin. However, I know that I cannot let this determine who I am.

What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

One would think I would say it was when I won my pro card. Yes, I am very happy that I have and very blessed for the opportunities that I have been given from it. However, the strongest and weakest moments in my journey is the fact that I had to struggle with health issues to make me realize to put my health first. It has been a negative situation that will be turned into a positive one. I now can help others realize that the stage is not a necessity in life, your health is. This doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t compete. This means that it should be done in a way that doesn’t jeopardize their health. Just because I am hanging up my competition bikini for now, doesn’t mean it will remain that way. For now, my goal is to tell my journey and to help others. What I have been though has happened for a reason and now I can help and inspire others in a way I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t gone through certain struggles.

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As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

My biggest ‘hidden struggle’ has been the way I see myself in the mirror. I have come a long ways from what I used to view myself. In my past I would look at myself in the mirror and constantly compare my current state to what my stage look has been. Feeling I wasn’t good enough or attractive. This is something I have been working on for a while and have made significant progress. I think that a lot of fitness competitors struggle with self image. They are constantly comparing themselves to stage looks or to other competitors.Yes, myself, along with others my not be stage lean currently. I think the fitness community needs to work together to show a healthy side of fitness. We need to show beauty in our offseason looks as well as stage looks. What you see in the mirror should not define who you are. On or off season, we can still become leaders. We can still inspire others. We can still smile and enjoy life.

What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

The best advice I can give someone in my position is to stop obsessing. Stop obsessing over a reflection in the mirror. Stop punishing yourself for living life a little. Just because you went out with friends or a social event and enjoyed some food or drinks, doesn’t mean you need to jump on the treadmill the next morning. This self punishment is not healthy and it is important to find balance. Start slow, go out with friends and have a nice meal and proceed with your normal routine the next day. Notice how you’re still alive and breathing and that once meal didn’t make or break who you are.

I have realized that I would rather live life with balance instead of missing out on what life has to offer just because I was afraid of being in a world outside of the gym or prep mode. For the past few years, I would worry more about my meals and the gym during family time and holidays. Those are times that you can never get back. What if one day you wake up and realize you lost someone close to you and didn’t spend enough time with them because you consumed your time with being in the gym?

Finding balance does take practice. It starts by taking baby steps. I have found balance in little things like not weighing myself anymore. In the past, I would obsess over a number on the scale. I realized that this number didn’t determine who I was. So, I stopped weighing myself and haven’t for months. I’m to the point where I don’t even care what I weigh. I also stopped obsessing with spending too much time in the gym. Before I would spend way too much time in there and would miss out on going out with friends or family. I would finish a workout and feel like I had to do more. This lead to me feeling burnt out and lost as to what to do outside of the gym. To find balance, I started working smarter. I gave myself a time limit and gave my workouts my all and when that time limit was up, I left the gym. Don’t be afraid of breaking a cycle that you’re in. I know that it can be scary at first but it won’t hurt you.

What methods of nutrition have you or do you currently use to help with balance? IIFYM, Intuitive Eating, Fasting, Specific Meal Planning, etc? As you said, you have been working with Layne Norton who is a big advocate of tracking macros and implementing IIFYM, how has your experience been working with him?

In my past, I was the typical ‘bro dieter’. I wasn’t knowledgeable with nutrition at that point. It wasn’t until a few bumps along the way, made me become more knowledgeable with my nutrition. I reached out to Layne Norton, who believes in tracking macros and flexible dieting (also known as IIFYM). This was very new to me at first and a bit scary. I came from being afraid of foods like fruit, bread and some processed items.

After being with Layne, I have gotten over most of my fears of foods. I have learned that flexible dieting makes life a little easier. It isn’t restrictive and doesn’t lead to panicking when you’re in a situation where you might not have a meal at your side. I travel a lot so flexible dieting has really helped me with that as well. Being able to grab a protein bar at the airport and not have to worry that its “not on my meal plan”, has been nothing but a sigh of relief. As long as I hit my protein, carbs and fat intake daily, I don’t have to limit myself to certain foods. I do have times where I will go out with a friend and have a meal that I don’t track. I don’t freak out about it because I know to eat until I am content.

In the past when I was limited to most foods, I would have a ‘cheat meal’ and eat until I couldn’t move. I don’t do this anymore because I never limit myself and I am not afraid I won’t be able to have something I want to eat. Flexible dieting is a great way to start the process of finding balance. I highly recommend watching Layne’s videos on flexible dieting if one is interested.

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How has social media/the fitness industry influenced the way you view yourself?

At first, social media was a way that I could compare myself to other athletes that inspired me. I realized that I’m not them and that I had to stop comparing myself and just be me. Once I saw that others followed me because I inspired them by just being myself, it was motivating to me. I am very thankful for those that follow me and have watched my journey. They have seen my struggles and have supported me though them. It truly is an amazing feeling that so many people care. It is an even better feeling when I am able to meet my fans. It is a feeling I cannot describe but leaves me feeling very blessed. This has helped me continue to just be myself on social media. People love realism, truth and honesty and this is something that I give to those that follow me. I feel it is more powerful and more people can connect to someone vs. some fitness icons that portray “a perfect life”.

How has your body image changed over time? I know you have posted about currently struggling with hormonal issues after competing at the WBFF Worlds this summer and gaining weight even on a low calorie plan, how has the mental aspect of that affected you recently?

With my body shutting down after the stress that it has been under for the past 4 years, it has changed in a way I never thought it would. I have gained weight in a very short amount of time on not that high of calories and didn’t understand what was going on until I finally got answers to what was going on.

Being diagnosed with hypothyroidism makes sense as to why I wasn’t able to lose weigh during my prep and why my body shut down after my show. I want to stress that I am my biggest critic and that to the average person, they may see nothing wrong with my current state, image wise. However, to me this is a bit uncomfortable but it is something that I have to be okay with.

I now know the reasons behind it and now can start the process of balancing out my hormones and getting my health back to normal. Cutting way back on my cardio to only 3 times a week and powerlifitng, really has given my body a break that it needs. I know that eventually my body will balance back out and I will be able to step on stage again if thats what I want to do. Health is more important right now because it is something I cannot get back if I neglect it.

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

In the past, it was the results that motivated me and the addictiveness to seeing change. Not that I still don’t love seeing results, but now my motivation comes from a lot of different things instead of one selfish thing. I am constantly motivated by my family, friends, fans and teammates. I follow people in the industry that want to change how we view health, which is a big thing that motivates me. With maturing a lot of the past few years due to struggles, I am my own motivation as well. I want to help others, I want to lead them in the right direction and help them realize that we all struggle and aren’t alone. When I get feedback from others, saying that I have helped them change or motivate them, that is something that is very rewarding and motivating for me.

If you could do it all over again, would you?

Even though I haven’t had the smoothest journey, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. We go through struggles to learn and grow. Without them, we wouldn’t be who we are today. There are things that I wished I would have done differently or paid more attention to, but certain things happen and we cannot change them. Everything happens for a reason.

What are your upcoming career goals, and how do you plan to pursuit your future with incorporating balance in your life?

I currently am in the works of launching my website where I will offer online services. I want to be able to teach others the right way of dieting or living a healthy lifestyle with balance. I also want to share my story and let it be known that we all go through struggles but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I want to inspire others and help in any way possible. As far as competing, the stage doesn’t determine anything for me. I can be a leader in the fitness industry without stepping on stage, just like so many amazing athletes who have realized the same.

If you are interested in following and supporting Ashley’s continued journey to balance, please follow her through the following channels:

IG: @missashleysarina
Facebook: Facebook.com/missashleysarina
Twitter: @ashleysarina
Email: ash@ashfitness.com
Website: www.ASHFitness.com

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IFBB PRO RUTHIE HARRISON: #THESTRUGGLEISREAL INTERVIEW

The Struggle is Real: Devoted to Unveiling All Sides of the Fitness Industry

Name: Ruthie Harrison
Age: 25
Occupation: Mechanical Engineer, Bikini Posing Coach
Location: Bremerton, Washington

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Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story Ruthie! My blog has always been dedicated to spilling the truth regarding the struggles we go through in this industry and our personal struggles associated with it. I appreciate your willingness to join me in being honest with your struggles, in hopes of helping others. I know you have had your fair shares of ups and downs in this industry which is why I reached out to feature you, and congrats on your success! That being said, can you fill us in on a little background about yourself and where you are at now with your fitness career?

I’ve been a part of the fitness industry since 2011 when I first decided to “go for it” and try to be a fitness role-model and inspiration for women. This is still a huger passion of mine – but now it involves a lot less of “me” and a lot more of others in a personal face to face type of way. In the peak of my fitness career, I was competing as an FMG-signed IFBB Bikini Pro athlete; coaching my own bikini competitors; modeling as a signed/published fitness model for Nike, Brooks Running, and others; writing and modeling for Muscle & Fitness Hers magazine; representing my sponsors BADDASS Nutrition, Power Crunch Bars, and Zipfizz energy drinks at the yearly Olympia and Arnold expos; AND still working at my full time job with the Department of Defense as a Mechanical Engineer.

These days, I still teach bikini posing but I do not compete anymore myself (I explain why below). I am still blessed to work with all my sponsors as an athlete ambassador, but I am not actively modeling or writing. I essentially stepped out of the spotlight and am just working towards restoring a healthy mindset, rebuilding my metabolic capacity via reverse-dieting, and increasing my powerlifting PR’s under the coaching of the infamous Dr. Layne Norton. You know the saying, “You can’t help anyone until you help yourself?” well I truly want to help others – so I have finally decided to help myself.

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When was your first show and what made you want to compete?

I began competing in the spring of 2011 at the Big Sky Classic in Missoula, MT. I entered that first show because a girl I went to college with suggested I “compete” – which I thought meant gymnastics, or track or something! -but once I realized what she meant I decided “why not” and entered a show. I wouldn’t have entered that show without her suggesting it; however, I was an avid Oxygen Magazine reader and I knew Jamie Eason competed once so I thought, “It’s my dream to be a fitness writer and model like Jamie. Maybe if I compete like she did I can make this dream come true!” I didn’t know I’d meet such incredibly strong and inspiring women backstage, but THAT’S the reason I kept competing. Those women made me feel so welcomed, encouraged and included that I left my first show itching to do it all over and see all my new friends again! I went home and googled “Natalia Melo’s trainer,” which led me to Team Bombshell and Shannon Dey. I hired her immediately.

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When did you start to notice a difference in yourself and when do you feel you really hit your “rock bottom”? What was that experience like?  

I distinctly remember when I realized I was dealing with an eating disorder. It was about 2 months into my first show prep with Team Bombshell, and I must have finally used up every last drop of my self-control, because I just cracked. I was so hungry! It felt like nature just took over and prevented me from starving myself any longer. First I ate a whole container of my roommate’s cottage cheese. Not being able to stop, I ate more… and more… random things… things I didn’t even bother to cook… I think I even took bites off a stick of butter! I was mortified with myself and my stomach hurt so badly I went outside and forced myself to throw up. I felt so guilty. I didn’t tell my coach. I called my dad crying and asked him if I could use his credit card (I didn’t have a credit/debit card) to order an eating disorder self-help book online. I had been flawlessly starving myself for months but something just snapped. My first binge was absolutely 100% due to starvation. Prior to that, many nights I had fallen asleep in my salad greens because I was so exhausted from working out for 5 hours that day to actually eat my food. I should have stepped away from competing right then, realizing I was feeding a negative cycle of starvation and binging, but I didn’t stop. I tried to silently overcome. I tried to “Stick to the Plan,” the Team Bombshell mantra.

Fast forward a year and a half to after I turned Pro, that is when I feel like I really hit “rock bottom.” When I got home from the show and I binged and purged for weeks straight. I didn’t stop competing immediately after this – I still competed twice as a Pro, but I knew I couldn’t continue to compete for long against the healthy Pro’s with such a destructive problem. After the Bikini Olympia in 2012 I quite honestly thought I might end up causing my own death if I didn’t get help, so I found a therapist and saw him twice a week as I tried to unlearn my destructive habits and mindset. I quietly left Team Bombshell, FMG, and modeling… six months later I was functional and no longer binging/purging uncontrollably. In my therapy I underwent Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) where I basically learned how to value myself by things besides by appearance and how to manage stress, happiness, and other emotions without involving food.

After your first show, how would you describe the weeks following? How did you handle eating? Working out? Your mental state? How was this different from the way you viewed exercise and diet previous to ever competing?

After my first show I ate the typical celebratory meal, complete with dessert and a glass of wine, but I didn’t feel guilty. I remember thinking to myself that it was weird to see all the other competitors going ape-sh!t on food I knew they’d have never have touched before, but I figured it was normal so I brushed it off. After my show, I returned to working out and eating healthy as I had done before (I had a good thing going, think Oxygen Magazine-style diet and workouts) but that didn’t last long because as soon as I hired a coach for the first time my fitness lifestyle got extreme in a hurry. Say hello to waist trimmers, Ziploc baggies of fish, two-a-days, and fretting over my glute-ham tie in. Fitness started shifting to being 100% about my appearance and “what the judges were looking for,” and no longer about my personal enjoyment or feeling strong. I know that I shouldn’t have focused purely on the physical, or on pleasing others, but I was young and impressionable and I didn’t see the error of my ways! I lost almost 15lbs from my already “fit” frame over my first prep. I was working out 5 hours a day most days and falling asleep in my food at night. BUT I won my next two shows (plus an overall title!) so I chalked it all up to being “part of the plan” and soldiered on. I slowly became simultaneously the most lean and the most self-conscious I’d ever been in my entire life.

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How many shows have you done since your first and why do you or didn’t you continue to compete? I have followed your journey for a while and know that you were with Team Bombshell, do you hold any resentment towards the rigidness of the plans you were put on?

I’ve done 9 shows since I started. It only took me three national shows to earn my Pro Card and I was an IFBB Bikini Pro by June 16, 2012 at the NPC Jr. Nationals. My Pro debut was the 2012 St. Louis Bikini Championships on Sept 15, 2012 where I got second place and earned an invitation to the 2012 Miss Bikini Olympia. Only 2 weeks later at the Bikini Olympia I placed “16th” (everyone not in the top 15 at the Olympia gets “16th” place on the scorecard, so there’s no telling what my actual placing was). Regardless of my placing, I felt proud of myself as I stood on that Olympia stage. No one can give you that feeling, you can’t buy it, and you can’t take any shortcuts – you have to EARN IT. It was unforgettable! BUT… I had already decided that would be my last show for what turned out to be forever. I stopped competing after the Olympia because I realized competing was a catalyst for my self-destructive behavior of negative self-talk, perfectionism, and an ED – and I needed to get healthy.

I actually don’t even blame my coach, Shannon Dey, or Team Bombshell for the ED. I do think that no matter who you are the Team Bombshell diet plans are unhealthy and unsustainable, but I know that I was producing my own eating disorder – and that competing was just a trigger. Some people won’t agree with that viewpoint, but at the end of the day I wasn’t self-loving or confident enough in myself to know that with or without the accomplishments of an IFBB Pro Card, booking a sexy photo shoot, getting signed by FMG, or being the newest it-girl of fitness that I am just as worthy of love and respect.

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What would you say your strongest and weakest moments or most significant moments in your journey were?

My weakest moments were when I was trying to do it all alone – I had many weak moments during that time! My strongest moments came after I sought help, started serving others in my day-to-day life and in my church to remove the focus on my appearance and start seeing my beauty in my character. A very crucial step in my journey was deciding to intentionally and daily reiterate healthy, positive, kind, and loving mantras to myself. “I AM a victor, I am not a bulimic, and I thrive under pressure, I am worthy of joy and I will seek the joy of others.” The mind is everything!

As stated, this series of interviews are to really develop the underlying issues, physically, mentally, and psychologically that affect us on the inside and are often not seen from the outside. What would you say your biggest “hidden struggle” is today?

I haven’t shared this publicly before, but before I ever competed I had an issue with using food to numb feelings of stress and anxiousness. If I was anxious about not meeting either my own or someone else’s expectations, I’d binge. I never investigated the root cause or felt it was an issue though because I just would compensate with extra exercise. I now know this behavior fits another definition of bulimia: “Extreme over eating, compensated by extreme over exercise.”

I still tend to doubt myself sometimes so I would say my biggest “hidden struggle” I have is being consistent to speak kindly to myself and believe in myself. My coach always told me that she believed in me and that I was special. In the past, I put so much pressure on myself to make my coach proud that I would crumble under the pressure and lose all control before it was “mission accomplished.” Call it self-sabotage at its finest. My daily challenge is to slow my mind down, believe in myself and my ability to maintain a healthy balance, and just do it!

What advice would you give to someone in your position, what has helped you find some balance?

Start with the mind. Fill your thought life with intentional, positive, uplifting and self-loving thoughts. Also, I think it’s equally important to help others as it is to love yourself! I’m a Christian so I believe as Jesus called it “the greatest commandment” is to love. Loving others and not focusing on your problems can really help forge your self-worth and help balance out an overly self-focused life. That was a big part of finding balance in my life, making my life more about others and less about me and my body.

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What methods of nutrition have you or do you currently use to help with balance? IIFYM, Intuitive Eating, Fasting, Specific Meal Planning, etc?

Currently, I follow IIFYM protocol. IIFYM sounds glamorous, but I still mostly eat nutrition dense “bro” foods. I do make room for a maple bar, sushi, white chocolate chips or a corn dog every once in a while though – because I enjoy them! I still food prep some basics every Sunday: chicken, greens, veggie snack bags, spaghetti squash, etc. and portion them off (yes, into baggies!) but leave a substantial allotment of my daily macros up for variation. On occasion I will use intermittent fasting when I feel like I need to remind myself that I am in control of food – not food in control of me! I think it’s important to continually work on being free of food obsession.

So true Ruthie! Can I ask, how has social media/the fitness industry influenced the way you view yourself?

The biggest thing I’ve learned from the fitness industry and social media is that fitness truly is about you becoming the best and healthiest version of YOU. Competing compares you with the next girl, and we often do that on social media too – but what we should be doing is being our own best self! Forget what anyone else is doing! Now I try to use the fitness industry for building a support network, learning new information and sharing my knowledge. I got into working out to develop a relentless work ethic and have fun reaching my athletic potential – that’s something I think we can all benefit from fitness!

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And how has your body image changed over time?

My mindset started out all sorts of unhealthy. I saw my body as what it “wasn’t” not what it was. I’ve softened a lot and widened my self-worth to include what I am capable of, not just what I look like. I used to think I what I needed was someone to tell me, “Ruthie you’re just great just the way you are, don’t stress about what you think others want out of you. We are all proud of you no matter how you place.” I’ve found out this someone was supposed to be ME!

What motivates you today? Has that motivation changed since you started?

In fitness, I am motivated to make new PR’s in my lifts – especially deadlifts and squats! In nutrition, I am motivated and challenged to work on consistency with meeting my macros, and finding new ways to incorporate the foods I’ve always loved into a balanced intake. I think the difference versus my previous mindset is pretty obvious :p I’m no longer mastered by the mirror. I know that if I meet my goals (above) I won’t end up with too shabby of a body ha-ha.

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If you could do it all over again, would you?

I am a strong believer that God can use everything for good and that “You can make your Mess into our Message, and your Test into your Testimony.” I’d hope if I competed again I’d do it in a healthier way, but I would have never realized I had such a lack of self-love or such an unhealthy stress response unless I competed so for that I am grateful, because now I can work on it!

I love that message, and I agree its a learning process and all about moving forward! That being said, what are your upcoming career goals, and how do you plan to pursuit your future with incorporating balance in your life?

Like I said in my intro, these days I have essentially stepped out of the spotlight and am working on restoring a healthy mindset, reverse-dieting, and powerlifting! An ongoing goal of mine is to help as many women as I can become free of self-hate and live the beautiful lives God intended for them. Personally I’d love to become more educated with the psychology of healthy body image, eating disorder recovery, building self-esteem and defeating negative thought patterns – so who knows, perhaps another degree is in my future!

I have a vision to start a joint business with my Nutritionist sister, Sarah Wilkins. I feel like this is a 5 year plan but it may include writing an e-book on healthy body image and weight loss, reverse dieting, some of our yummy protein recipes, and much more – so keep a lookout for that! Thank you for reading and I hope this interview has been a source of hope for you 🙂

Blessings,
Ruthie Harrison

You can continue to follow and support Ruthie on her journey for balance through the following channels:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Ruthie.Harrison
Instagram: Ruthie_Harrison_
Twitter: @L4eternal
Email: L4eternal@gmail.com
Blog: www.L4eternal.blogspot.com

 

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